People often embark upon silly projects for the New Year, often involving itemized lists, to keep themselves motivated and moving forward with their lives. Sometimes it even works. So here's my silly project: I intend to watch 52 classic films - one every week of 2011 - spanning the last century of feature cinema and in chronological order.
I'm doing this for a couple reasons. First of all, because I just haven't seen enough of them, especially for a former film student. But more importantly, because I want to get a feel for the overall history of cinema. Its shape; its twists and turns. So watching the films in order is an important part of this project. It should help me to approach each film as its original audience saw it, with their prior experiences fresh in my head, and their future left to mine as well.
The List itself is already laid out and set in stone. In stone, damnit! However, I'm not going to share it here. That would only result in frequent second-guessing over why I chose these but not those. Indeed, the first thing I realized when making the list was that 52 was far too short to cover all of film history adequately. I'm sure any sane person will have some disagreement with how I chose to do it, but rest assured that I probably wrestled over your suggestion at some point and had a sane reason for rejecting it. So instead we'll just let it be a surprise each week, which will be more fun anyway.
There were some rules to making the list. Well, guidelines anyway. I started out with a handful of rules and most of them got broken at some point or another. To start with, simply as a way to pare down the list of potentials, there are no foreign films (and that includes British films). All the films are feature length narratives, and I tried to stick to about five movies per decade - some have four or six. The highest grossing film (by first-run grosses only) from each decade is included, to represent the popular opinion of the time. The other choices were culled from IMDb user ratings along with the usual critical darlings. Since the point of the list is to represent the evolution of cinema, quite a lot of great films were rejected on the basis that, while excellent in craftsmanship, they did little to change the state of the art, or were simply redundant with similar titles. However, I didn't want to get too obscure either - everything is "mainstream." I tried to get a broad sample of genres, and to capture the flavor of each decade. Westerns are underrepresented, as my wife just took a class on Western mythology, and we've seen enough of them lately, thank you. Horror isn't really represented at all, and I think that's partly because sacrifices had to made, and partly because horror sortof has its own, segregated history, and somehow seemed at odds with the continuity I was trying to create. I've also tried to avoid political or "current events" films, or films about the film industry.
So, that's pretty much it. We've been preparing for this all week by watching episodes from The Perils of Pauline, a 1914 suspense serial. It's done a good job of establishing the starting point, both technically and narratively. There's been pirates, cowboys, uncomfortably dangerous stunts, and absolutely no more camera movement than required. And we didn't have to sit through the news reels!